Software for Civic Life: An Interview with Mike Mathieu of

In this interview Mike Mathieu, founder of, discusses how he is helping to build “software for civic life”. Using publicly available data and web services (many of their applications use S3 and EC2) Frontseat creates simple, highly functional tools like Walkscore (rating neighborhood walkability) and Countmore (helping students in the recent elections decide which state to cast their vote in). Mike is also behind obamaCTO where you can add your opinion and cast your vote for what the new CTO of the USA’s priorities should be.

With the recent election there has been a lot of talk and enthusiasm for the possibility of a more open, modern government that operates with transparency and makes data available for remixing by it’s citizens. People have their eye on government to change…This is a worthy goal to push for but don’t hold your breath. The government of the United States is a behemoth that, all told, employs 12 million people and is preternaturally territorial and risk averse…

Pressing government to change is necessary but is not the only bet we should place. Mike makes the point in this video that we don’t need to wait for data that can improve civic life or increase transparency in government.

If you know of other examples of citizens improving civic life that deserve mention, please share them in the comments.

Part one of this interview is available here.

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  • I’ve started a climate change project called Many people have blogs, websites, and use social software sites (social networking, social bookmarking, photo and video sharing, etc.). Some standards for tags and text on blogs, websites, and social software sites could turn the whole global Internet into a kind of Web 2.0 participation platform for climate change. I’m suggesting a few simple standards for tags and text that leverage processes of the sustainable ProxThink growth model. To get this going, we need people to adopt and use these standards. The project could also use contributors, collaborators, partners, funders and sponsors. To find out more, see:

  • These tech tools are outstanding, but we are still animals, social animals. We need to have as many breakthroughs in how we work in small groups as we are having with tech tools. Data to create transparency is important, but when we are also personally transparent in conversation and negotiation, more potholes get fixed.

    What kind of progress could we make if we were as curious about human-human interaction as we are about human-computer interaction?

    For anyone coming to BILConference in February in Long Beach, let’s discuss. And if you’re part of a group or team that works really well together, I’d love to promote your story.

  • Agree with you A.J., tools no matter how great are just that, tools. Even more important are the “workers”, the people moved towards a cause, for whom these cool tools become means. The Obama is a great example. It starts with the people, then tools to facilitate people’s actions, with tools getting refined with further use.

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